Military Responses to Disasters
Northern California Floods, 1950
(21 November 1950-18 December 1950)
National Guard Reseponse

The Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys were imperiled by floods during November and December, 1950. Governor Warren declared an emergency and directed The Adjutant General to render assistance to communities of the State where the local resources were not adequate or where the magnitude of the disaster indicated that local resources would be inadequate. Units and individuals of the California National Guard were alerted and put on active duty in accordance with the Governor's orders.

DUKWS (2-1/2 ton capacity amphibious trucks) were dispatched to threatened areas and were used for rescue work and for patrolling flood areas to prevent looting; planes of the Air National Guard were used to transport per sonnel and supplies; planes of the Army Light Aviation were utilized for reconnaissance and photography; 2-1/2 ton and 1/4 ton trucks were used to transport personnel and to assist in evacuation of civilians ; radio'nets were established and road blocks set up to prevent reoccupation of evacuated areas at the request of sheriffs and police chiefs.

Armories were made available to house and feed evacuees. Commanding officers of National Guard units in the various communities served with representatives of local disaster councils and authorities in planning and directing relief work. Detachments

Source: 1950-1952 Biennial Report of the Adjutant General of the State of California


Governor's Office of Emergency Services History

Unseasonably warm temperatures this week are expected to rise into the mid-70s for parts of Northern California. Historically, winter tends to start inching its way into California around the holidays, with temperatures in the 60s and regular threats of precipitation.

Nearly 66 years ago, a devastating flood in Northern California caused more than $32 million in damage and was responsible for nine deaths, according to the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES). It was the region’s worst flood on record until 1997, when a series of subtropical storms in Northern California caused severe levee failures.

The floods of November and December of 1950 initiated when a series of meteorological events in the final days of October caused heavy rain across the northern end of the Sacramento Basin and extended as far south as the American River.

A mixture of 1-3 inches of rain and snow fell from the Yuba River south to the Kern River in mid-November, and snow blanketed down the Sierra Nevada slopes to approximately 4,000 feet in the Sacramento Basin, 6,000 feet in the San Joaquin Basin and western Nevada, and 7,000 feet in the Tulare Basin.

Even so, the hardest of the rain and snow had yet to arrive.

Just a few days later, some basins received as much as 13 inches of rain while an average of 11 inches fell on all of the mountain watersheds from Yuba River in the north to Kern River in the south. As much as 10 inches of rain fell in 12 hours. Warm rain melted away on shallow snow cover and set off record-breaking flood peaks on almost all of the mountain streams.

Another storm preceded a stretch of nearly a week-and-a-half without any precipitation. In early December, though, a warm storm brought about 4-5 inches of rain in the Sacramento Basin and 2-3 inches in the San Joaquin Basin.

Minimal rain fell for the rest of the month of December, but by then the damage had already been done.

Throughout the series of storms, the Yuba and American basins absorbed 30 inches of rain. The San Joaquin Basin received 25 inches of rain, with the Truckee Basin totaling 20 inches and the Tulare Basin accumulating 15-20 inches. The cumulative effect of persistent precipitation was extremely rare for the early stages of winter, likewise for warm temperatures that caused rain to fall at unusually high elevations. More problematic, the continual string of storms did not allow the watersheds to dry out, thus putting stress on almost every major stream of the Sacramento and San Joaquin basins and the western Nevada area.

The overflow from streams flooded more than 245,000 acres in the Sacramento Basin, while the San Joaquin Basin consumed 226,000 acres. The total flooded area in the Tulare Basin amounted to 198,000 acres, and western Nevada had 41,000 acres under water.

As winter approaches, massive flooding in California remains a constant threat, along with mudslides in burn-scarred areas. Since 1950, there have been at least eight other significant flooding disasters in California, including the 1997 New Year’s Day flood in Northern California. More than 23,000 homes, businesses and other infrastructures were damaged. Nine people died and an additional 120,000 people were evacuated from their residences.

Search our Site!
Search the Web Search California Military History Online
View My Stats
Visitors since 8 December 1998
Questions and comments concerning this site should be directed to the Webmaster
Posted 6 December 2017